Texas firings seen as sign of coming immigration crackdown
By Jay Root
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
July 26, 2007
A pending federal rule would give authorities more power to punish employers who ignore warnings about discrepancies and possible misuse of Social Security numbers.
The rule says companies that knowingly hire illegal immigrants can be subject to fines of up to $10,000 per worker for repeat offenses.
Experts say companies currently face few sanctions for ignoring federal “no-match” letters indicating something is amiss with a worker's Social Security number.
FORT WORTH, Texas Reports that the country's largest chicken-processing company has begun firing illegal immigrants working in East Texas have business leaders and immigration experts bracing for a nationwide crackdown on employers who hire the immigrants.
Pilgrim's Pride, a Fortune 500 company that processes 44 million birds a week, confirmed Tuesday it recently fired plant workers in Lufkin and Nacogdoches, but officials refused to give numbers or reasons.
Advocates for the workers estimated the company fired more than 100 people who couldn't produce valid Social Security numbers.
“Large layoffs is what I'm hearing,” said Linda Morales, a Stephen F. Austin State University professor in Nacogdoches who assists migrant families. “It wasn't Pilgrim's that decided to do this. I think it was some kind of warning they got … about hiring people who don't have documentation.”
Experts said the firings highlight widespread concerns that federal authorities, often criticized for failing to punish employers who hire illegal immigrants, are embarking on a major crackdown.
“Tip of the iceberg doesn't even get it,” said Tamar Jacoby, an immigration expert at the Manhattan Institute in Washington, a conservative think tank. “It's like if a plague were coming and [Pilgrim's] is the first person coughing. This is going to be really bad.”
She said millions of workers nationwide could be impacted if the beefed-up federal enforcement is carried out as some anticipate.
A major impetus for new fears: the expectation that the Department of Homeland Security will soon finalize a regulation that puts more teeth in the employer-sanction law, which can lead to fines of up to $10,000 per employee against companies that knowingly hire illegal immigrants.
The rule would put much more of the onus on employers to rectify discrepancies that arise over Social Security numbers, experts said.
Issued last year, the proposed regulation was left pending while Congress attempted to pass a comprehensive immigration overhaul, a package that was controversial in part because it included a pathway to citizenship for many workers now in the United States.
Since the effort collapsed, business leaders have been expecting the rule to be issued “any day,” said Bill Hammond, president of the Texas Association of Business.
Pat Reilly, a spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Washington, confirmed the rule, ICEB-2006-0004, is awaiting final action. She had no timetable for its final adoption and publication in the Federal Register.
Gary Rhodes, a spokesman for Pilgrim's Pride, would not say whether the pending rule prompted the recent firings.